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Holding All Elections in One Day

Although it comes at a price, Jega’s suggestion is worth good attention

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega recently came up with the idea of holding all elections in the country on the same day. In proposing the single-day elections, Jega noted that the existing arrangement of staggered elections is fraught with many drawbacks just as it is wasteful in terms of energy, time and money. Added to these is the fact that staggered elections do not necessarily guarantee free and fair polls as we have witnessed over the past 13 years of the current democratic dispensation.

Against the background that under the prevailing electoral system it could sometimes take between three and four weeks to conduct the various elections (Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and House of Assembly) during which all economic–and sometimes even academic–activities are usually grounded throughout the country, we consider Jega’s idea a worthwhile proposition and we endorse it. Although the INEC boss added a caveat that the single-day elections he is proposing may not take off with the next major elections, we see nothing wrong in fast-tracking the idea so it could take effect with the 2015 polls.

Perhaps the single major complaint against holding all elections in one day is that the ballot paper could be too bulky in the case of Nigeria where there are many political parties taking part in any elections. The argument goes that the illiterate electorate in the rural areas might get confused to the point that they would render their ballot papers invalid. Or that some may vote against their choices if given four different ballot papers at the same time. While there may be merit in this argument, we do not believe it is sufficient enough a reason not to try what has been perfected even in smaller West African countries where elections are usually held in one day with many parties competing.

There are also those who argue that since INEC still has difficulties in holding crisis-free elections under the existing staggered formula, there is no assurance that the electoral body would get it right if all elections are held in one day. That may be a legitimate concern. But in lending support to the single-day voting, we have weighed all the negatives that the extant staggered elections present against what the nation stands to gain from the proposed one. First and foremost, the current system is not cost effective as the nation was almost always shut down for several days whenever elections were held in the past with all the attendant economic implications.

There is also the issue of voter-fatigue as turnout of electorate usually declined after the first major poll. Furthermore, and perhaps more fundamental, is the notorious fact that once the presidential or governorship elections are held first and results declared, subsequent elections tend to reflect the so-called bandwagon effect. We therefore endorse single day voting because, as has been evident in countries where it is practiced, it would take care of the waste and allegations of manipulation usually associated with staggered polls.

The main concern here is whether the INEC will really get its act together to ensure that all logistics problem such as late arrival of ballot papers and voting materials to polling centres as currently being encountered will be eliminated prior to introducing the single-day voting. But that does not obviate the fact that it is an idea worth trying. We therefore call on the National Assembly and other critical stakeholders to give serious consideration to the idea of a single-day elections, especially as we move towards the 2015 polls. As the INEC Chairman clearly stated while proposing the idea, once there is a national will in such direction, it is possible.